“You are responsible for keeping the People of Israel separate from that which makes them ritually unclean, lest they die in their unclean condition by defiling my Dwelling which is among them. These are the procedures to follow for a man with a discharge or an emission of semen that makes him unclean, and for a woman in her menstrual period—any man or woman with a discharge and also for a man who sleeps with a woman who is unclean.” (Leviticus 15:31-33, The Message)
Bodily fluids are associated with life and death—blood was life, the shedding of it death or atonement. Semen and the life-sustaining blood in a woman’s placenta is life. When a man’s semen or a woman’s blood came out of the body and was “wasted,” this was considered a situation that demanded a separation between life and death, clean and unclean, as noted in Leviticus 15:31-33.
Men’s and women’s concerns for remaining ritually clean are covered parallel to one another. First, either intentional or unintentional emissions of semen make the male unclean until evening. He must wash any clothes touched by semen, himself, and remain ceremonially unclean until evening. An unhealthy discharge, such as an infection, from the male’s penis renders him unclean and in need of seven days of isolation, washing the body and clothes, and offerings in the tabernacle.
Parallel to the concern for male ritual purity is the concern for females to remain unclean during the time of their monthly period. The flow is life and death and subject to ritual guidelines. In later Jewish writings is mention of women being immersed in a ritual bath after their period is over.
Another summary reminder comes at the end of chapter 15 to give us a key for understanding the chapter specifically and Leviticus overall. Note that the summaries tell what precedes it but the introduction to each section is action, such as “The Lord spoke to Moses.”
In order not to end this chapter on commentary about bodily fluids, here’s a reminder about the whole book of Leviticus. Once again, the key to understanding Leviticus and to anything mentioned, whether about bodily fluids, mildew, monthly periods, is to remember God is seeking a people for Himself, to be holy as He is holy.
“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.”
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa, OK. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.